Chokers can become champions too!

South Africa, despite invariably showing magnificent form in the early rounds, have never won a knockout game at the World Cup. Nothing less than a win over in-form Australia on Thursday will dispel the belief that when the going gets tough, the Proteas end up choking.

South African cricket loyalists have never let facts stand in the way of their indignation, and the ‘choker’ narrative has become an interesting bit of revisionist history, believe it or not. Ask most local fans about their team’s record at World Cups and you`ll hear that the Proteas have ‘always’ let them down when it mattered most. A mournful Lance Klusener on his haunches at Edgbaston and a completely shattered AB de Villiers in Auckland make for some of the most poignant pictures of South Africa`s World Cup semi-final heartbreaks.

Any Proteas cricketer worth his salt hates the `C` word while Australia as legacy champions of the ODI global meet would like to rub it in, in the best possible manner they can, in the sultry afternoon heat of the half-sunbaked, half-shaded Eden Gardens.

None deserve a trophy more than this side, barring New Zealand of course. A summit clash between the two sides will make for the most riveting World Cup contest, I dare say. Sports broadcasters and journalists may spice it up a bit, with headlines manoeuvring around ‘chokers vs chokers’ narrative. Really, the chokers tag is the immediate go-to. No kidding. It is an inconvenient truth for all South African and New Zealand cricketers past and present, and one they do not like being reminded of.

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South Africa have made it to the semi-finals on four occasions from nine editions, but it has always been a tale of being so-near-yet-so-far. Be it the rain-rule mis-calculation on their debut World Cup in 1992 semi-final against England, or the tied result in 1999 that guided Australia to the final due to better run-rate, the Proteas for one reason or another have never been able to progress beyond the last-four stage. 

But cricket, like life, resembles a flowing river in which nothing stays forever. No team records, personal milestones, or labels. 

“As a South African team, we know we`re going to have that chip on our back, or that narrative that we have to get over. That`s always going to be there until we win a trophy… But yeah, I haven`t heard that word come up as of yet in the training,” South Africa skipper Temba Bavuma told a group of inquisitive reporters when confronted, throwing a word of caution.  

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That there is not even a faint whisper of a discussion about the Temba Bavuma-led side’s possibility to hold aloft their maiden World Cup trophy will perhaps qualify as a blessing in disguise, a far cry from previous editions when South Africa were considered overwhelming picks, frontrunners, and mighty challengers. 

Their fans at least expect the players to fight, an attribute that mysteriously disappeared against the Dutch and Indians only to re-emerge at Motera. Certainly the current ODI team is good enough to be safe from a true choke. The side knows it can perform when it matters, and that should be a moment of catharsis. 

As for the fans, they have lived on hope for so long that they can huddle closer together praying for the tide to turn and hope on for a little longer.

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